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COVID-19 Restrictions Offer Window into Palestinian Experience

Movement Restrictions, Family Separation Daily Reality for Millions of Palestinians

An Israeli guard tower at the Qalandia military checkpoint in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, separating East Jerusalem from Ramallah. (c) 2014 Annelisa Leinbach/VWPics via AP Images


On April 14, the Israeli government ordered a 36-hour ban on inter-city travel for Israelis, the latest measure taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Over the last month, authorities have closed several neighborhoods and towns and introduced digital surveillance for those diagnosed with COVID-19 or suspected of having been exposed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told citizens to adjust to the “new way of life.” The adjustments have disrupted daily routines, shuttered businesses, and forced many to celebrate Passover virtually, physically separated from loved ones.

And yet, for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, far more sweeping restrictions on movement have been the norm for decades. Since 2007, Israeli authorities have largely sealed off the Gaza Strip, banning the movement of 2 million Palestinians living there outside of “exceptional humanitarian cases” and maintaining a formal “policy of separation” between Gaza and the West Bank. Israel’s closure of Gaza, which is vastly disproportionate to any concrete security threat, separates thousands of Palestinians from relatives in the West Bank, inside Israel, and abroad.

Israeli authorities also impose broad restrictions on the movement of the more than 2.5 million Palestinians who reside in the occupied West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem. The Israeli army requires Palestinians to obtain time-limited permits to enter not only Israel but also large parts of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem as well as areas taken over by settlements or the army. The Israeli rights group B’Tselem describes the permit regime as an “arbitrary, entirely non-transparent bureaucratic system.” Authorities have erected more than 700 permanent obstacles, such as checkpoints and roadblocks, across the West Bank, according to UNOCHA. Checkpoints can turn a visit to a nearby relative into a humiliating, lengthy journey.

In addition, Israeli authorities have since 2000 largely stopped processing applications that would allow Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank to obtain status for spouses and other relatives who do not already reside in the same area lawfully, according to discriminatory criteria. Israeli law also bars Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza from residing legally with their spouse in Israel or occupied East Jerusalem, a right that Jewish spouses enjoy whether or not they are Israeli citizens. The rights group Mossawa estimates this restriction affects more than 30,000 families.

Unlike the temporary COVID-19 measures to protect Israelis, these longstanding restrictions are not meant to protect Palestinians and are not going away anytime soon.

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